The kitchen table has looked like this through this week as I've indulged in some mellow, sun-dappled quilt-history reading, some knitting planning and general book-meandering to any warmth that may escape past the Aga-Hog, a sleeping - snoring Rocky. In the midst of all that I've strayed wantonly off into yet another exploration of the writing of Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
I also discover that Remembrance Sunday was the fiftieth anniversary of her death, November 9th 1958.
I have been re-reading The Homemaker for the zillionth time and each time I find a new and previously unseen perspective in that book to explore and more of that soon, but as you already know I have also found myself completely engrossed in Dorothy Canfield Fisher's book of short stories, The Bedquilt edited by Mark Madigan.
In his introduction Mark Madigan crystallises my thoughts on the writing of Dorothy (incidentally originally named Dorothea after her Middlemarch namesake) and perhaps now explains why hers is writing I return to with great frequency,
'Fisher brought to her short fiction a deep understanding of human beings and the world we inhabit. Above all else, these stories bear the imprint of her "special way of looking at things", a way of interpreting life as she knew it - with "her whole personality."
The story of the title has long been a favourite, as spinster relation and Elwell family drudge Aunt Mehetabel dreams up the superlative quilt pattern which she then proceeds to hand piece and quilt over a period of years. Eventually her skill and application win her the status of minor local celebrity and a previously unthinkable degree of inclusion into a family who have taken this maiden aunt for granted all her life. As word spreads of a masterpiece in the making and strangers arrive at the door to view her tiny stitches and immaculate seams, the family begin to realise her value, though perhaps still as a marketable commodity. Nevertheless Aunt Mehetable is given fabrics, a work table of her own and best of all, every quilter's dream possession, time away from her chores to sew.
The empowering 'completeness' this offers to Mehetable's self esteem, giving her a voice after a lifetime of silent disadvantage, makes for a far deeper read than the brevity of the story first suggests. Similar themes to those that always jump out at me from Susan Glaspell's brilliant play Trifles where, through the stitching of the log cabin quilt, Mrs Wright heart-breakingly but symbolically creates that warm, happy home she yearns for.
The metaphor of the quilt is a powerful and multi-faceted one wherever it is used
As well as a perceptive empathy in identifying the plight of these single, seemingly parasitical women, there can be no better story than The Bedquilt for conveying the joy and thrill of creativity.
I'm convinced that any craft activity done at any level accesses a feel-good bit of the brain. Knowing and feeling those shafts of excitement that can pierce the day in day out-ness of life once that bout of startitis strikes, the idea is born, the mind-planning begins and the materials are required yesterday, which all justifies the existence in every knitting or quilting home of the ubiquitous stash. Truly awful, I'm sure you'll agree, not to be able to respond instantly to those moments of pure inspiration before they are effaced by the sight of a full washing machine.
For Elaine Showalter The Bedquilt is no less than " a parable of the woman writer and her creative fantasies.'
Hmm, parable? Fantasies? So we might not quite have perfected the bouts of finishitis here yet, but we will, we will. But yes it is a parable ( I never argue with Elaine...'Showalter argues that...' has earned me many a good essay mark) and on so many levels.
Meanwhile lest you thought I may have finished it this week, no it's still a fantasy awaiting reality.